MOMENTS WITH THE MINISTER: Shrinking before the mystery of death
Last weekend, I traveled to the Houston area for the funeral of a high school classmate. He was fifty years old. As long as I knew him, more than 35 years, Ted was kind, friendly, and warm. From high school to our 30th high school reunion, I always found him in a group of people, laughing, smiling, and having a good time-- no matter the occasion. I said to another long-time friend that funerals are now like high school reunions, rare opportunities for our large circle of companions to gather and share memories. His was the first of many coming over the next few decades.
As a Christian, I follow a Lord who stepped away from the darkness of death and into the new life of resurrection. Death is as much a reality for me as it is for anyone else, yet we pray our fear of death is somehow lessened by the hope of the empty tomb. This Good News is so powerful and beyond our normal attitudes about life and death that the church decided millenia ago to proclaim Easter a season rather than one Sunday. It is fifty days of celebration. As Jesus left behind his funeral clothes in his tomb, so you and I are free to step into new life.
Toward the end of my tradition’s funeral liturgy, the pastor prays for the person who has died: "Receive _______ into the arms of your mercy. Raise _______ up with all of your people." But then it goes on: “Receive us also, and raise us into a new life. Help us so to love and serve you in this world that we may enter into your joy in the world to come. Amen.”
The Book of Hebrews says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Brian McLaren in his book We Make the Road By Walking says that we say that God is the God of the past, present, and future. The God of the past has brought us to this moment. The God of the present is with us now. The God of the future reaches back and pulls us forward. God is not confined by the boundaries of space and time. So at the end of our lives, the God of the future is bringing us forward into a new life. If God is there in the future, what are we afraid of, again?
The great Christian preacher William Sloane Coffin said this:
“Eternal life begins not at the end of time, nor even at the funeral home, but right now; the death that comes is not the death that separates us from God. 'Though he die, yet shall he live.' 'Whoever believes in me shall never die.' St Paul said much the same thing: 'No one lives unto himself alone, and no one dies unto himself alone. If we live, we live unto the Lord; and if we die, we die unto the Lord. So if we live or if we die, we are the Lord's.' The abyss of God's love is deeper than the abyss of death. And she that overcomes her fear of death lives as though death were a past and not a future experience.”
I am grateful for my friendship with Ted. I pray for his wife Kristen, another friend of mine going back several decades, and their two children. And the many others Ted knew through work, his service in the Air Force, or his involvement in community organizations. As we shrink before the mystery of death, may we see the light of eternity.
In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Frank Drenner was ordained in 1998 and has served as pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Sherman since July 2016. He is married to Christy, and together they have three sons. Find more from Drenner at http://www.pastorfrankdrenner.com. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.